Nurturing Your Body: Loving Yourself
From Opening Hearts Chapter 5 Healing & Nurturing the Body
The body is a miraculous self-repairing system of awe-inspiring complexity. To maintain adequate function and prevent disease, the body requires a few vital things from us: good nutrition, adequate exercise, and protection from toxins and the elements. Making good choices about all of these things can heal disease that already exists and prevent other diseases from taking hold. Additionally, nurturing your body can become a spiritual practice as well.
One challenge in this is that our media-driven world presents an interesting paradox regarding physical health. On one hand, we see a dizzying array of unreal and dishonest images of perpetual youth and vigorous health. On the other hand, we’re presented with messages that tempt us to indulge in unhealthy and sometimes destructive choices. Through various media we’re also given misguided, incomplete, or even deliberately inaccurate information about health.
Therefore despite having access to the greatest medical treatments in human history, we also have unprecedented opportunities to sabotage our health through neglect, ignorance, or with choices both willful and unconscious that amount to poisoning ourselves. Every day there are multiple opportunities to choose whether to preserve your body’s well-being or to accelerate its descent into breakdown and illness.
While some injury inducing accidents and diseases remain unavoidable, there are many steps you can take to nurture, protect, preserve, and even restore your physical health now and for years or decades to come. In fact, science now shows that even inherited tendencies for disease can be kept at bay with good health practices. Preventing disease is much easier than trying to manage it once it appears.
I believe that it is possible to prevent most, if not all, of the non-congenital problems I encountered in my four decades of practice in cardiovascular surgery. My research showed that heart attacks and strokes, lung cancer and emphysema, type 2 diabetes, kidney failure, blindness, and lower extremity amputations are all preventable.
We now have the greatest range of life-saving medical options ever developed. We also have clear information about how the body works and what it needs. In previous generations a heart attack usually meant a quick death but today people often survive a heart attack with medical intervention.
Following is an example of the typical progression of heart disease and the reactive care that occurs for a man without changes to diet or lifestyle. Heart disease in women may or may not follow a similar progression. Women’s physiology is different enough from men’s that women often have differing symptoms that she can easily dismiss or attribute to other causes.
It is also not uncommon for her physician to misdiagnose, although that is improving with better education. This misunderstanding of how heart disease presents in women is one reason why women die from an initial heart attack more often than men. However, when they do survive their longevity will be compromised without changes in lifestyle so the outcome of early death shown in this example can be the same for women as it is for men.
Our example: a man has an initial heart attack at thirty-nine and receives critical emergency care to save his life. He chooses not to change his diet, stop smoking, reduce his stress, or exercise so he can look forward to increasing levels of medical intervention as he ages.
His progress might look something like this:
- a coronary bypass at age forty and again at forty-eight
- a bypass graft for a blocked artery in one leg at fifty-one
- a bypass graft for a blocked artery in the other leg at fifty-three
- repeat operations in each leg at ages fifty-five and fifty-seven respectively to remove clots and restore blood flow
- amputation surgery for one leg at fifty-eight
- clot busting drugs for a stroke at sixty
- amputation surgery for the other leg at sixty-two
- carotid artery surgery at sixty-three to prevent another stroke
- emergency medical intervention for another heart attack at sixty-four
- pain-killing drugs to mitigate suffering during the final year of life
- death at sixty-five
Yes, we have many medical ways to address diseases that otherwise would have meant swift and certain death. Regrettably this kind of life can be best described as enduring rather than living. And the cost of these modern treatment options has escalated to such prohibitive levels that it can often bankrupt a family before death finally comes.
Wouldn’t it be better to learn how to be a shining example of disease prevention rather than a good patient?
Wouldn’t it be better to reverse ailments like cardiovascular disease rather than falling victim to its reliably destructive progression?
Learning how to develop effective, economical preventative health strategies will give you that opportunity and lead to a vigorous engaged long life. So if you want to keep a spring in your step and a song in your heart until the age of eighty and beyond, you will have to take your own health in hand.
Premature fatalities account for about seventy-five percent of all deaths in the United States. By “premature fatalities” I mean deaths that could have been easily prevented with a bit of foresight and care.
No one can avoid death, but far too many people choose either willfully or through ignorance to die far too young because of self-neglect. And really, it isn’t just about how you die; it’s how you live until you die. Will you be in constant pain and/or unable to care for yourself? Or will you be among the twenty-five percent of people who simply wear out and go gracefully into the long goodnight?
All bodies eventually wear out. In earlier eras heart diseases were not so common. However fewer people back then lived long enough to be taken down by hardened arteries or heart fatigue. With more abundant nutrition and medical care we have increased the average lifespan in the United States to just over seventy-six years for men and eighty-one years for women: long enough to see the consequences of many poor health choices. Heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death in the United States, as it has been for decades.
Heart disease kills more people than all cancers combined and it doesn’t necessarily wait until you’re over fifty to do it. It’s also important to note that cerebrovascular disease—disease in the arteries leading to the brain rather than the heart—is the number four leading cause of death.
Among those who die each year, far too many perish from an acute lack of blood to the heart muscles or to the brain caused by blockage of important arteries. Most often this is caused by atherosclerosis, hardening of the arteries.
Yet what can be even worse than dying quickly from heart attacks or strokes is being left seriously incapacitated or in pain for years before dying. So to increase your chances of living to a ripe old age with your physical capabilities and mental faculties in top form, it’s important to adopt an effective, practical, easy-to-follow lifestyle plan to keep your arteries in good condition.
To help you nurture your physical well-being, I’ve developed some very simple yet vital guidelines that I call The Five Cardinal Rules for Healthy Living. These ideas were originally presented and more thoroughly detailed in my book You Can Beat Heart Disease: How to Defeat America’s #1 Killer. These guidelines came out of research I and my colleagues did as we tried to understand the workings of the heart and the diseases that harmed it.
My Five Cardinal Rules provide the first line of defense against coronary artery diseases, strokes, obesity, type-2 diabetes, hypertension, blood clots, hardening of the arteries, limb loss, congestive heart failure, emphysema, kidney failure, gallstones, degenerative arthritis, and many forms of cancer, most especially of the lungs, throat, and breasts.
Many people develop these illnesses at the onset of middle age and sometimes even younger. And as obesity rates soar both in the United States and globally, a distressing and increasing number of these diseases now occur even in children. Yet my research, and corroborating research by others, has shown that these diseases are largely preventable and often reversible.
Healthy arteries are essential for good health. As the conduit for blood and thus for oxygen within your body, the arterial system forms an essential part of your physical and mental well-being. Without a strong unhindered flow of blood and oxygen throughout your body, the other organ systems soon break down.
Committing to a lifestyle guided by my Five Cardinal Rules for Healthy Living or by following any one of the multiple programs based on my Five Cardinal Rules is the key to staying healthy and fit.